For Immediate Release
Contact: Miles Migliara
National Communications Manager
AMVETS National Headquarters, January 29, 2019 — In a surprise clear-majority ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned lower court holdings that had excluded Vietnam War Navy veterans, who served aboard ships in the waters near the coast of Vietnam, from receiving presumptive benefits for certain illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure. The higher court held that Congress never intended to exclude these veterans, contrary to VA general counsel opinion and administrative decisions used to justify the denial of benefits.
“This court ruling could not have come at a better time as we’ve recently undertaken tremendous advocacy efforts on behalf of thousands of Vietnam War veterans who served in areas where Agent Orange toxins had literal downstream effects,” said Joseph Chenelly, AMVETS National Executive Director. “The science supports their case. The law had already allowed them to receive the benefits. But all it took was a few dissenters to put a value on their sacrifice and decide the debt was too high to pay decades later, long after the sacrifices had been made by these veterans.”
The ruling follows a disappointing vote in the Senate, where Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) blocked a measure that passed the House by floor vote and would have expanded “presumptive exposure” benefits to include so-called “Blue Water” U.S. Navy veterans who served in the region where herbicide warfare had impacted surrounding air and water safety and quality from 1961 to 1971.
In addition to claims of insufficient scientific evidence to prove exposure for those on ships, opponents to the measure cited cost and the need to offset those costs by defunding other veterans benefits to pay for the many new ones. AMVETS joined other major veteran service organizations in a vocal demand for more accurate scoring by the Congressional Budget Office following disputed estimates based on previous years.
“We believe the court’s ruling puts the science issue to rest. That leaves it up to the American people, through our representatives, to decide ‘when is the cost of freedom too high to pay?’” said Chenelly. “Our Vietnam War veterans have carried this debt alone for far too long. AMVETS will no longer let our government renege on its obligations to them.”
Incoming chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee for the 116th Congress, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), reintroduced H.R. 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which will restore the original intent of Agent Orange legislation if signed into law.
AMVETS is the nation’s largest and oldest Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization that is open to and fights for all veterans who served honorably, including reservists & guardsmen. AMVETS has been a nonpartisan advocate for veterans and their families for more than 70 years. amvets.org